I was born and raised in the United States, yet somehow I have this tremendous sense of pride in being Basque.
Like really, once you get me going, I can’t shut up about it.
And it’s strange because…
- I’ve never lived in the Basque Country.
- I don’t speak Euskara, the Basque language.
- I know very little about the current day realities of the Basque Country in terms of politics, economics, or popular culture.
And yet, I strongly identify as Basque. Or shall I qualify that as Basque American?
While I may still be learning about the Basque Country as it is today, I know a lot about the Basque diaspora in the United States, having grown up fully immersed in it.
My father is from the Basque Country but moved to the United States in the 1960’s. I was born and raised in California but our household and family life was very much influenced by Aita’s culture.
(Aita and me)
Aita’s entire social life revolves around our local euskal etxea, the Basque Cultural Center in South San Francisco. By extension, that meant our family life centered on the Basque Center too.
Years of family parties and holidays shared over Basque meals with other Basque immigrants and their families.
Decades of attending local Basque picnics and festivals across the American West, at many of which I performed traditional Basque dances with the Zazpiak Bat dance group.
Countless lesson on pala, mus, and txistu at Udaleku over the summers.
All of this meant that the bulk of my social life outside of school when I was younger revolved around Basque circles and events.
I still catch myself categorizing my friends in California into two groups: my American friends and my Basque friends (even though all of my Basque friends are also Americans). My Basque friends and I were like any other Americans, we just spend a lot of time in the Basque community.
I wonder if the formation of my Basque identity solely has to do with involvement in activities as a child, but I feel like there’s more to it.
There are plenty of Americans of Basque descent like me who take pride in being Basque, even though others may not have had as much access to these community events and resources as I did.
My Basque Aita never explicitly told me we were Basque, what that meant, and that it was something to be proud of. He just embodied the culture and raised his kids as much as possible as if he were still in the Basque Country.
And my American Mom was fully supportive of this project to build our family social life around the Basque American calendar. (Literally, the one NABO puts out every year detailing every Basque club’s events — my parents have at least three in the house at all times.)
I’m immensely grateful for this connection to Basque culture and community because it has given me a great sense of belonging. A strong sense of identity rooted in knowing where I come from and that if I ever needed help, I would have a community to support me.
A few years ago, I was living away from home and feeling very homesick. I was debating whether I should move back to California, so I met up with a new friend of mine to talk about my dilemma.
I said, “I just feel like I need to be with my people.”
“But who even are ‘your people’?” she asked rhetorically, trying to intellectualize my very personal problem.
“I know exactly who my people are,” I replied.
And I could see myself walking into the Basque Cultural Center once again, into a room full of familiar faces. People who had watched me grow up, people I had known my entire life. Like a real-life version of Cheers but with way more amatxis and aitatxis at the bar.
I tried to explain to my friend the Basque diaspora and what the experience is like to know that you truly belong somewhere and to a certain group of people. She had grown up moving around a lot and didn’t have a fixed idea of a childhood home and community like I did.
It was in that moment that I realized how lucky I was to have the Basque community as a source of confidence and support in my life. No matter where I am in the world, I know who my people are and I know where to find them.
This rootedness in my Basque identity often mixes with a very American enthusiasm. When I meet people from the Basque Country in everyday settings or when I hear Euskara spoken in unexpected places, I approach strangers without a second thought to talk to them about the Basque Country and my own Basque heritage.
This automatic sense of camaraderie I feel for perfect strangers is not always shared. I once was staying at a youth hostel when I ran into a group of teenage boys in the lobby speaking Euskara. They must have been on a school trip or traveling for a sporting event, but I never found out. They all looked at me like I was crazy when I told them in my broken Spanish that I, too, was Basque.
And maybe to some it is crazy for an American with no mastery of Euskara to claim that she is Basque.
Even still, I remain passionate in my enthusiasm for sharing what’s great about the Basques, especially the Basque diaspora. It is this very community that has given me a true sense of belonging and security throughout my life, and I try to give back to it through my online activities.
I write on Basque topics regularly for Hella Basque, a blog I created so that other members of the diaspora can learn more about our heritage and feel more connected to Basque culture. And now I am honored to be writing guest posts for Euskal Kultura.
I curate articles on Facebook and Twitter so people have resources to learn more about the Basque Country and its diaspora.
I share pictures of the Basque Country on Instagram so people can see how beautiful a place it is. And on my Instagram Stories, I show what the Basque diaspora is like in the United States so that people from the Basque Country can see our efforts to celebrate and preserve Basque culture.
I am proud to be Basque and to continue learning what this means, allowing my identity to transform and evolve. I am proud to tell others about the Basques and help people in the Basque diaspora to connect with our shared cultural heritage.
I hope to instill in others this sense of belonging that has given me so much.